Then Peter came to Him and asked, “Lord, how many times will my brother sin against me and I forgive him and let it go? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered him, “I say to you, not up to seven times, but seventy times seven.”
Forgiveness is the sacrificial act of love to do the opposite of what has been done to you. Forgiveness is scary because it opposes our old human nature. When we want to repay evil for evil, forgiveness responds with a love that brings freedom. Forgiveness is the bedrock of freedom.
Peter began to grasp that the kind of forgiveness Jesus offers to us—and therefore to others—is very different than the social norm. Previous to these verses, Jesus has just discussed how to deal with offenses that occur in human relationships. Peter then asks the question that is on all of our minds: “How many times do we forgive?” Great question! Dealing with offense is going to be common occurrence if you have breath in your lungs. Walk down the street in NYC, and you will find something to be offended about. To be human is to experience hurt and pain; it is unavoidable. To be part of church community will not mean the absence of hurt but rather a new way of dealing with offense. The church is the place where the Kingdom of God is birthed so that it can grow up and inhabit the city. Forgiveness is the way of the Kingdom—it needs to start with the church and flow out into the city.
The Jewish rabbis of Peter's day would teach that a merciful person was someone who would forgive three times. Peter, having experienced the love of Christ, thinks his suggested answer, to forgive up to seven times, to his own question is generous. Peter more than doubles the cultural norm for the amount of times one should forgive another human who causes offense or hurt. You can sense that he is grasping grace at a new level, but Jesus is about to smash his paradigm.
Just when we think we have begun to grasp the immensity of God’s love, we find that the universe of His love has grown at the speed of light. We can’t think fast enough to contain or keep up with His love. His love goes beyond knowledge, but by His spirit, He gives us the power to comprehend how amazing His love is.
Jesus responds to Peter, saying that forgiveness should be given not seven times but rather seventy times seven. Essentially what Jesus says is that as a follower of Christ, as a Christian, we don’t keep count! There is no hesitation in the response of Christ. He totally breaks the prison-sized concept that Peter has of God’s love and transports him into an ocean-sized revelation of love.
Jesus knows something that Peter doesn’t yet quite understand. Jesus is not asking Peter—or us—to forgive based on our human love, but rather He asks that we forgive out of a love that comes from above. This is a love that expresses itself in forgiveness that never ends. Jesus can say this confidently because He is the one who was already—and was going to continue—to forgive Peter an unlimited number of times. Jesus wasn’t going to keep count with Peter, and Jesus doesn’t keep count with you.
Jesus, through the cross and His resurrection by the Holy Spirit, is able to fill us with unlimited love. We simply need to believe in Him and receive this forgiveness. Jesus is not relying on our human ability to forgive but rather His supernatural love that can now live in us by grace. This same ability that Jesus has, because of His nature of unlimited love, He puts into us. That love gains access into our lives through His forgiveness of us, and with it, He wants us to forgive others. We need to receive His forgiveness to give forgiveness.
Jesus would never expect this level of forgiveness from us without first giving us the kind of forgiveness that could produce more forgiveness. Maybe today our view is like Peter’s: we are grasping that the love of Christ is double what the world brings, but perhaps if we let Jesus respond to us, we will find that there is no comparison between His love and the love that we have known in this world.
It’s time to stop keeping count. You are forgiven to forgive.
// Pastor Josh Kelsey